Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy and Sad Defined

One week ago at this time we were celebrating our daughter’s graduation from nursing school. It was a joyful day.  Between dear daughter, Torie, and myself, the cake was on its way, the food was prepared, the camera was ready and we were all dressed.  I loaned the graduate one of my very favorite dresses and Amélie was coordinated perfectly.  Torie and I were on an electric blue kick with her wearing a fabulous sweater that seemed to have been created for the electric blue heels that I wore.  Don’t remember what the guys wore…….not important….oh not quite true……Xander had a knock-out suit on with handsome black loafers.   He was dapper.
Alexander, Torie, Ashli and Amélie
It was kind of a dreary, rainy day…..but we were all sunshiny inside.  As soon as the auditorium was filled, Amélie looked down at the graduating class and shouted out, “Where’s my Mama?”  Of course this 3-year-old couldn’t totally wrap her young brain around a college graduation but she knew it was a very special day.  To top it off, she had learned just where to insert her new word,   “gra-du-A-shun” into the melody of Happy Birthday.  Ashli was glowing and she got a few extra minutes in the spotlight on stage due to a “hood malfunction” on the other end of the stage.  But when they finally said, “Ashli Jansen,” she moved on cue and received that little piece of parchment and the apricot hood that will always be a part of her.  AI watched her on stage, I could hear my own mother in my head saying “they can never take your education away from you.” 

The party was fabulous.  We had so much fun making champagne toasts to the graduate and sharing good food and yummy nurse’s cake together.  We were celebrating well into the evening until Ashli brought my cell phone to me and said, “Mama, it’s Mamaw……and it’s not good.”   My dear cousin, Brent, had just passed away.   I’m pretty sure I was immediately transformed from a fairly good hostess to one that made her guests feel very uncomfortable and looking for an escape route (my apologies to everyone).  One of the best days ever quickly became one of the worst days ever.

We’re a week down the road now.  Ashli has moved on from graduate to job hunter and expert packer as they prepare to move in to their new place this weekend.  Greg and I have been to Indiana and back to grieve with our family as we laid our dear cousin to rest.  There’s a new addition to the family – the little guy who made Brent a great uncle.  Elliot will never get to know first-hand what a great uncle his great uncle was.  Is that why I just keep crying?  This is not the first loss we’ve had in our family but it seems especially difficult and I can’t quit dissecting the reasons why I haven’t been able to keep any mascara on for a week now. 

Walb and Bertie Wyant had four grandchildren from their first two sons within the span of four years.  I am the eldest and within ten months came my cousin, Greg.  Then within three years, I had a sister, Denise,  and Greg had a brother, Brent.   We were it for a long time – the main act.  We shared Sunday dinners at Grandma’s; we hunted Easter eggs and ate at the little kid’s Christmas table at Nelle and Ruth’s;  we pushed each other on the tire swing at Grandpa’s Beech Hills farm; we picked every kind of berry imaginable with Grandma, or perhaps more accurately…..we ate while Grandma picked; we waited together in anticipation for the surprise visits of our wild and wonderfully exotic Uncle Doyle and then fought for his attention;  we rolled on the grassy knoll at the farm and then complained about our chigger bites; we chided each other relentlessly about who was a better basketball team….the Alices or the Hatchets; we antagonized our mothers as we jumped in piles of leaves on our annual fall trips; we argued about dumb things just like brothers and sisters;  we gave our Grandpa wild hair-dos and then laughed at how funny he looked; we played post office with Grandma’s secretary desk; we listened for endless hours to the tall tales of the Wyant boys and the shenanigans that probably gave our Grandmother her beautiful silvery grey hair.  My sister and I had two brothers years before our little brother Andy was born – we were the four Musketeers.  Our grandparents, our parents, our aunts and uncles were all young and strong and healthy and forward looking.  There was an energy when they all  came together that made you want to grow up – to be just like them.  And the laughter…….it was so infectious that I can still hear it if I shut the world out for a few seconds.
Melinda, Denise, Brent and Greg at Ruth & Nelle's

In addition to the fact that losing my precious cousin was a shock that none of us were expecting,  I think it seems especially hard because it brings the loss of his brother, our grandparents, and two of our cherished uncles right up to the surface again – it feels like more than the loss of one person . . .it’s  the vision of this precious family I was born into changing once again and slipping a little further away from my grasp.  It reminds me once again of the importance of shared family memories.  These are the kind of memories that draw you together and bind you in a way that nothing else does.  The older you get, the fewer people there are who have known you all of your life and the fewer people there are that you can visit your childhood with.   Shared memories not only bring smiles to faces but they also add a fragrance to life – kind of like watching a flower bloom  while the aroma swirls around you on a soft breeze.

After my cousin’s graveside service, my husband and I drove a little further down into the Beech Hills to find the lane of my grandparent’s farm.  I haven’t been there for years and we took one wrong turn but I was amazed at the strength of my memory of those country roads even though things have changed.  I took some pictures and brought them back for my dad to confirm that we were in the right place.  Sure enough, he saw one picture and said, “Oh yeah, that’s where Doyle stripped down bare naked one winter when he realized that he still had his long johns on.”  He finished the story with a big smile, the hint of a tear and one of those big boisterous laughs that I remember listening to as a child.  All of that came back seventy years later from the picture of a mass of greenery……..I watched my father looking at that picture and I knew he had jumped inside it. He was a child again, laughing and rollicking with his brothers.

The scene of the stripping of the long-johns.

If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older. 
~Tom Stoppard

I am so sad that I have one less person to share an incredible childhood with – my sister and I are now the keepers of the Divine Secrets of the four Wyant Musketeers…..but I’m also thankful for the realization that my remaining cousins and I are the proprietors of what began down in the hills and valleys of the Beech Hills and Monroe City.  What will keep all of the little Wyant descendants warm when they are adults?  I'm in awe of the cycle of childhood and families......and how they really can't be extinguished.

I leave to children exclusively, but only for the life of their childhood,
all and every the dandelions of the fields and the daisies thereof,
with the right to play among them freely, 
according to the custom of children, 
warning them at the same time against the thistles.
And I devise to children the yellow shores of creeks
and the golden sands beneath the water thereof,
with the dragon flies that skim the surface of said waters,
and the odors of the willows that dip into said waters,
and the white clouds that float on high above the giant trees. 
And I leave the children the long, long days to be merry in a thousand ways,
and the Night, and the trail of the Milky Way to wonder at;
but subject, nevertheless, to the rights hereinafter given to lovers;
and I give to each child the right to choose a star to be his,
and I direct the father shall tell him the name of it,
 in order that the child shall always remember the name of that star 
after he has learned and forgotten astronomy.
~Williston Fish, "A Last Will," 1898

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What I Know For Sure About Being a Mother

What I know for sure about mothering is that it doesn't leave you time for much of anything else - but the one thing is always supplies you with is time to beat yourself up for being what you believe is an inadequate version of the mother you think you should be.

When I was a single mom, I actually believed that I was supposed to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and then tuck my well-mannered, well-groomed, and top-of-the-class children into bed with a story, a prayer and the vision of a smiling and completely put-together June Lockhart kind-of-mother (in pearls and a skirt mind you).  I actually pulled this off many nights.  But what my children never knew was that I would then go into my bedroom and cry myself to sleep - usually from feelings of complete and utter exhaustion and worry, topped of with a boat load of maternal guilt.  Finally, out of sheer frustration and self-loathing, I decided to start collecting quotes that I could use as affirmations.  I started reading them through my nightly  tears hoping that they would help me believe that I could get up in the morning and do it yet again and hopefully with a little style and grace. These words became my backstage parenting classes and over time they made me feel like I wasn't alone in the way that I felt.  More importantly, they helped me gain the courage to be the kind of mother who tried everyday  to just do my best with the information and resources that I had at the moment.  I finally figured out that sometimes that meant just being "good enough" and not perfect.

My children are grown now and they have all started families of their own.  My judgment on myself on this Mother's Day is that I must have done a pretty good job because they are all amazing and they are all incredible parents.  I realize that prayer and the grace of God were more influential in their upbringing than any of my mothering skills, but regardless, my children are the kind of adults I would choose to have as friends - I like them just as much as I love them.

As a Nonna, I love the freedom that I have with my grandchildren.  I don't have the "if they don't turn out, it's my fault" thing hanging over me.  But when I listen to my kids, I hear them being so hard on themselves just like I did and I find myself wanting to relieve them of some of those doubts.  But I know that some of those doubts are necessary because they keep you shooting for the "parent of the year" award - always wanting to do it better.  My daughter recently told me that I'm intimidating to her and her sister when it comes to mothering because I did it so easily.  I had to chuckle because I realized that they don't know yet that it took a lot of work to make it look so easy.

So on this Mother's Day, I'm going to share some of those quotes that I collected over the years.  I hope that some night when they are having a parenting melt-down that they are hiding from their children, they'll find some words that will help get them through.

Here are some of my favorites:

The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth.  From this almost mystic affirmation there comes what may seem a strange conclusion: that education must start from birth. (Maria Montessori)  Note from Mom: This is a boat load of guilt if you take it too seriously but it's still true.  You just have to remember that children are not blank sheets of paper for a parent to fill up so you're not responsible for everything that they learn.  Only use this quote in conjunction with the next.

We can't form our children on our own concepts; we must take them and love them as God gives them to us.  (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity. (Eleanor Roosevelt) Note from Mom: there's never a silly question - jump on it when they wonder about things shower them with more things to help them wonder and discover.

My all time favorite words for a mom to daily live by and constantly reflect on:
 Children Live What they Learn by Dorothy Law Nolte

A mother is not a person to lean on but a person to make leaning unnecessary.  (Dorothy Canfield Fisher)  Note from Mom: This is a hard one to learn but when you realize that you're children aren't leaning on you quite as much as they used to, pat yourself on the back and don't feel sad. It means you did your job.

A mother is neither cocky nor proud, because she knows that the school principal may call at any minute to report that her child has just driven a motorcycle through the gymnasium.  (Mary Kay Blakely) Note from mom:  And should you happen to get cocky and braggy......a call WILL come about something to knock you down a few notches and remind you that you aren't done yet.

My doctors told me I would never walk again.  My mother told me I would.  I believed my mother.
(Wilma Rudolph)  Note from mom:  you're the one person who can do this with true authority.

If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much.
(Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis)  Note from mom: it's just true.

At work, you think of the children you have left at home.  At home, you think of the work you've left unfinished.  Such a struggle is unleashed within yourself.  Your heart is rent. (Golda Meir) Note from mom: it's a fact of mothering, not fathering.

Nothing weighs more than maternal guilt.  Men rarely work around the needs of their children; women rarely work any other way.  -Sarah Ban Breathnach

Strengthen a parent and you strengthen a child. -Fred Rogers  Note from mom: take care of yourself or you're no good to your kids.

Over the years, I've read this poem a thousand times:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
(Kahlil Gibran's poem on Children - read the rest: Link to Kahlil Gibran's entire poem on children

Children are living messages we send to a day we will not see.  (Unknown)

Pray to God....but row to the shore.
Note from mom: And then there are times when you can't row anymore and there's nothing else to do.  This is when you drop to your knees because you have no where else to go and then you pray for God's protection on your children.

And above all, remember that the mother who laughs......lasts:

If you love something, set it free.  If it comes back, it will always be yours.  If it doesn't come back, it was never yours to begin with.  But, if it just sits in your living room, messes up your stuff, eats your food, uses your telephone, takes your money, and doesn't appear to realize that you had set it either married it or gave birth to it.
-Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Ha, Ha, Ha - I love that one!

Brittany, Ashli, Ty and your absolutely fabulous spouses, I love you all!